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What would be an ethical salary?

UBER, a carrier-to-application company, is planning to make a big bump on its Initial Public Offering (IPO). The expectation is that the company can get an IPO between 100 and 120 billion dollars. A curiosity is that in a prospectus released by the company, UBER reported about 6.8 billion in losses according to the magazine Exame[i], numbers greater than the Amazon at the beginning of its trajectory.

Something that is not so new to us are the salary amounts that executives of large companies like UBER receive. To get an idea of ​​Brazil only, according to Forbes [ii]magazine, in 2017 Vale paid an executive a monthly average of about 5 million reais. A considerable remuneration, isn’t? Itaú, for example, paid about 3.5 million monthly to one of its executives, an annual value of R$ 40,918,000.00. In addition to the mentioned companies, B3, GPA, Bradesco, OI, Braskem, Suzano Papel e Celulose, Ultrapar and Fibria Celulose are among the 10 companies that paid their executives the highest in 2017. These are extraordinary values, out of the reality of the majority of the world’s population.

Turning to the UBER case, its current president, Dara Khosrowshahi, may be counting the minutes for the IPO. This, because if the IPO is successful, he will pocket USD 100,000,000.00. That’s what you read, it’s 100 million dollars already defined in the contract before the opening of the capital.

Faced with these incredible figures, we ask a question: What would be an ethical salary?

Aristotle[iii], a classical philosopher of undoubted importance, was concerned with money. It is possible to say that the pursuit of money by pure speculation or the pursuit of money in an unbridled way is considered by Aristotle as an abuse of the use of material goods. The general idea is that we should seek the internal goods, that is, something like happiness, the common good, a good life. In this way, material goods such as money, or those closely related to material, such as power and status, should only be considered as a means to achieve what is sought, such as a higher end.

“a business that makes nothing but money is poor business.” – Henry Ford

In Aristotle, it is possible to divide the economy into two questions: the natural and the unnatural. When we talk about the natural issue, there is a necessary limitation of resources and the ultimate goal is a higher end, that is, it is the possibility of enjoying and enjoying wealth and not just focusing on usury. The unnatural form for Aristotle would be that in which the quantity of resources has no limits, desire is immoderate, is an obstacle to happiness and corrupts the natural by reason of excess.

How then would we think about a limit on earnings? In the Aristotelian view, virtue can help to think about it. Self-control and knowing how to say no could be a start. The virtue of prudence can also help to follow a good reason. In the same sense, the virtue of courage becomes essential while exercising courage in professional activities is important.

MacIntyre[iv], an important contemporary philosopher for the ethics of virtue, proposes two important concepts, which are goods of effectiveness and goods of excellence. External assets or assets of effectiveness are those pursued for the benefit of others and are out of the agent, an example of this is money. On the other hand, internal goods or goods of excellence are chosen in themselves, achieved in activities whose purpose or purpose is their own realization in the best possible way. They are internal goods to practices, such as flourishing, love relationships, knowledge and virtues.

Thinking in this way, you can check if we could put a limit on the financial gains. Does the amount of resources lead to internal goods or does it become a hindrance to the achievement of happiness, for example? Both Aristotle and MacIntyre see importance in business, but what the authors call attention to is whether the activities, whatever they are, lead to a higher end or are only related to profit and hence usury, that is, to the end in itself. Usury, by itself, was much debated and condemned during the Middle Ages with Thomas Aquinas. We can say that usury is the excessive collection of interest or even the rampant acquisition of financial resources in the market. Generally, these executives would raise these amounts through negotiations that companies make in the market. In Aristotle’s view, as well as in MacIntyre’s view, all this sum quoted would probably not be regarded as a means of acquiring a higher end, such as human blossoming (eudaimonia).

Ferrero and Sison[v], two authors also of great importance to the current context of ethics, describe that profits and productivity are reasonable indicators of the soundness of an investment, but they should not be the sole and primary objective of the funder. Ethical requirements must be satisfied above all else. Goods and services must be “really useful,” not only because they satisfy consumer preferences but also because they safeguard and promote human dignity, the common good, and other fundamental social principles.

The search for profit from companies or even wealth maximization and the consequent distribution of so-dreamed millionaire bonuses to their top executives is not a closed question among some ethicists. Obviously, the question is more complex than outlined here, but my idea was to bring some surveys, as well as some concepts and perspectives on the subject.

MacIntyre states that “no quality can be considered a virtue, except insofar as it is such that it permits the realization of three distinct types of goods: those internal to practices, those which are the goods of an individual life, and those which are the goods of the community “.

How about 100 million dollars for your services? Is this amount of money an ethical salary? If there is a limit, what would it be?


[i] https://exame.abril.com.br/negocios/ceo-da-uber-pode-ganhar-100-milhoes-com-ipo-veja-quem-mais-fatura/

[ii] https://forbes.uol.com.br/listas/2018/06/conheca-o-salario-dos-altos-executivos-de-18-empresas/#foto10

[iii] ARISTOTLE. Translated by: ROSS, W. D. Revised with an Introduction and Notes by: BROWN, L. The Nicomachean ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2009.

[iv] MACINTYRE A. After virtue, 3rd ed. Duckworth, London, (2007 [1981]).

[v] FERRERO, I.; SISON, A. J. G. Aristotle and MacIntyre on the virtues in finance. In A. J. G. Sison (Ed.), Handbook of virtue ethics in business and management (Vol. 1–2, pp. 1153– 1162). Dordrecht: Springer, 2017.

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